Is there anything more beautiful than the human face? Beautiful because it manifests the mystery of incarnation: meat made more than meat, flesh quickened by spirit, the breath of God made visible; the way the wind is made visible when it moves the trees.
Faces show love, show what it looks like, a visible image of the invisible. Think of Jesus’ face in Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The loving is in the looking.
It is said1 that, just as the Son is the Word of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the Look of love that the Father exchanges with the Son.
But faces show other things besides love. Someone has said that, by the time he is forty, a man has the face he deserves;2 which is to say, our faces sometimes reveal things we would rather keep hidden. I have often noted that the wounded, those who have been particularly marked by suffering, wear a certain look, as definite and unmistakable as a taste on the tongue.
I’ve seen it in friends, I’ve seen it in family, I see it sometimes in a stranger walking down the street — a quick flash of something permeable, something naked, something crying for healing. I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.3
I don’t mean that people’s souls are open books to me, far from it, but still: I know what I know.4 When you’ve known a particular pain from the inside, you can recognize it in others, the way Jadis descries the mark of a magician (however faint) in the face of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew.
I wonder if this is part of the secret to “gaydar.” Not every man with SSA wears the look of the wounded — and not everyone who wears the look has SSA — but it’s there often enough.
And even those who don’t know what it means sometimes react to it. Think of the face of the awkward boy in seventh grade, the one nobody liked, the one whose eyes always pleaded with you to laugh at his horrible, false jokes — and think of how you couldn’t bear that look, had to avert your eyes. It’s a look that can generate hatred as easily as compassion.
Looks of love, looks of pain. I wonder if the truly holy have the power to see the true looks behind all of our contrived ones, the way Curdie had the power to feel the true shape of a man’s hand in The Princess and Curdie.
And all of our looks, true and false, loving and pleading — I wonder how they look to God.